Last week was packed with inspiring African news. Flutterwave’s integration with PayPal opens up a major payment channel for African businesses. Kuda raised $25m to build a bank for every African on the planet. Burna Boy and Wizkid scooped Grammy awards, hoisting a north star for millions of dreams.

But the week threw up a grim picture too hard to ignore.

We can now confirm that Africa’s most populous country and largest economy has a chronic unemployment problem. This grim reality has led me to wonder about something that has happened in my kitchen for the second time in many months: why do rotten eggs explode?

Incubating chaos

There has never been so many jobless people in Nigeria. Only Namibia, a country of 2.5 million people, has a worse unemployment rate than the African giant’s 33.3%.

Boluwatife Sanwo/TC Insights

According to Bloomberg’s report:

“A third of the 69.7 million-strong labor force in Africa’s most-populous nation either did nothing or worked for less than 20 hours a week, making them unemployed, according to the Nigerian definition. Another 15.9 million worked less than 40 hours a week, making them underemployed.”

That’s about 23.2 million people who supposedly lack access to employment opportunities that offer stable income. The shortage of regular inflows mean they are likely living austerely and not saving. Without meaningful jobs, they must be bothered about being unable to access health insurance.

The 10 million who do not work probably depend on benefactors for data subscriptions if they must stay online.

This is a snapshot of a country in dire straits. But the real devil emerges on a graph tracing back to the last half-decade.

“Nigeria’s jobless rate has more than quadrupled over the last five years.”

Boluwatife Sanwo/TC Insights
Bloomberg attributes the rising joblessness to two recent recessions, the latest one somewhat induced by 2020’s pandemic. But this steady climb is a sign that Nigeria is incubating something awful.

Eggs get bad and explode for a number of reasons. Typically, it’s caused by bacteria from some source, spills from nowhere, dirt or plain old neglect in bad temperature environments.

When bacteria builds and permeates an egg, it forms a foul smell, kills any embryos inside and gases begin to build within. At the slightest crack… boom!!

A 33.3% unemployment rate means Nigeria’s government is failing badly at one of its three macroeconomic responsibilities. It’s not doing any better on the other two; food inflation is at a 15-year high of 21.79%, and GDP isn’t going to grow past 2% in 2021. At the slightest crack, frustrated Nigerians could go… boom!!

Incubating innovation

Nigeria is a gauge for Africa, for better or worse.

Africa-focused investors with an eye for high-growing sectors like financial technology and e-commerce want their money to multiply in Nigeria’s 200-million-people market. But the brutal indicators mentioned above will challenge their sunny hopes.

But the clouds are not all dark. In fact, real investors are thrilled by the challenge of spotting the companies who will stop the rot.

If we imagine the question to be, “how will your app be sticky for the 40 million unemployed and underemployed Nigerians?”, the answer is that such apps are platforms for market-creating innovations.

That’s the lesson from Flutterwave’s unicorn status; from Kuda’s ambitious drive; and even from Burna Boy’s calculated collaborations with artists that increase his international discoverability on Spotify. The only way to systematically reverse rising unemployment is to intentionally engineer platforms that enable new opportunities.

One would hope the Nigerian government runs with this insight, by consciously investing in initiatives that encourage rather than stifle innovation. Nigerian startups have hugely benefited from private-sector-led efforts in that regard – whether it’s Co-creation Hub, Y Combinator or Startup Bootcamp Afritech.

That means carefully curating eggs, and making sure the environment is set to the right temperature. That means not letting spillages and dirt from politics alter the ecological balance needed for growth. A steady crate, a safe space. Then watch those embryos hatch and bloom.

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